I began collecting coins on a whim and soon found myself completely engrossed in this fascinating hobby. In this guide, I'll explain how to get started with a collection of your own and hopefully help you avoid the common obstacles that can trip up a new collector.
Why collect coins?
There are many good reasons to start a coin collection:
* To learn more about history. There's something undeniably cool about holding a little piece of history in your hands, whether it's an ancient coin bearing the portrait of Alexander the Great or a 1943 US penny made of zinc-coated steel instead of the usual copper. Historical coins have fascinating stories to tell.
* As an investment. A coin's value depends on a few factors, and in some cases is higher than its "face value." Some coins are made of valuable metals, while rare coins often command high prices among numismatic connoisseurs-the most valuable coins may even sell for millions of dollars. A rare, high-quality, and in-demand coin can make a smart investment. If your primary goal is eventually selling your coins for profit, then you will need to do extensive research on coins and market trends to make the smartest possible acquisition decisions.
* For fun! You might love the thrill of finally tracking down a rare coin or finishing a particular set, you may appreciate the aesthetic and artistic value of a coin, or you might enjoy hanging out with likeminded hobbyists. Coin collecting is a fun and satisfying hobby for countless people.
Personally, I collect coins as a way of engaging with history and simply enjoying myself. I haven't sold any coins from my collection and mostly just enjoy researching the history behind each coin.
How to get started
Coin collecting can seem deceptively simple-don't you just need to buy a few coins? But then come the complications: Which coins should I buy? What (if any) focus should my collection have? Where can I find good coins? How much should I pay?
I'll be honest: My first few coin purchases were completely spontaneous. I was walking past a small coin shop in Salzburg and decided to stop in to see if they had anything medieval. As it happened, the dealer had some 13th-century coins minted by the city's bishop, ranging in price from 15 to 75 euros. I grabbed one I liked for 20 and never looked back. Plenty of casual hobbyists are happy to build their collections in this way, selecting new items based on personal appeal and a bit of serendipity.
This can be a fun and low-key way to collect. As I've gotten more into coin collecting, I've started putting more time, thought, and research into my purchases. This is for two reasons. First, I really enjoy learning more about numismatics and finding out about cool coins I'd otherwise never have known about. And second, once I started buying bigger-ticket items, it simply made sense to do more research.
Where to find and buy coins
Building a sizeable coin collection often takes time, so be patient! There are many places to look for new coins to add to your collection.
For starters, you can examine your pocket change. Are there any interesting coins? If you're trying to collect every State Quarter, then this method may work quite well to get your collection going. Some collectors enjoy metal detecting. This hobby gets you outside enjoying the fresh air as you hunt for historical coin hoards.
Of course, finding top-notch coins this way requires practice and luck-bear in mind that coins which have been buried for decades aren't always in pristine condition. Just make sure to check local rules and regulations before you set out with your metal detector. Flea markets, estate sales, and yard sales are another coin-finding venue. One difficulty here lies in determining authenticity, so proceed with caution! However, you can sometimes find some real gems at flea markets at a reasonable price.
Some collectors (including myself) have found some great coins at small antique and numismatic shops. Many of these shops now maintain websites, so if you find a shop or dealer you like, you can check out their recent acquisitions online.
How to take care of your coins
It's important to take good care of your coins so that they stay in good condition long-term, retain their value, and continue to provide educational value to future generations.
Top recommendation: Avoid cleaning them. Cleaning coins is one of the fastest ways to destroy their value. Older coins may have discoloration or a grimy appearance, but they're more valuable that way than they would be if you polished them. Historic coins often have a nice tarnish or patina, and they should stay this way. So, avoid the urge to polish, and definitely keep them out of the rock tumbler!
There may be cases in which some amount of cleaning is necessary or desirable; for example, if you if you and your kids are collecting circulating currency (such as America the Beautiful quarters) by setting items aside from pocket change. In this scenario, the coins are probably kind of germy, and they're not super high value. Giving them a basic clean won't really do any harm.
So, if you decide you definitely want to clean a coin, here's how to proceed: Use only gentle soap and water. Stay away from anything rough, abrasive, and destructive like acid, metal polish, or steel wool. Wash your coins in a small container with warm water (preferably distilled water). A plastic container works well; harder materials like glass or metal aren't as good since they're hard and can bang up your coins.
You should wash only one coin at a time. Dumping a bunch of coins in your container allows them to hit and scratch each other. Once finished, gently pat each coin dry (do not rub-this will leave scratch marks). Let them dry all the way before you put them away. Cleaning aside, how should you touch, move, and handle your coins? With care, and ideally with gloves. The natural oils of you skin can corrode and damage coins over time. I suggest wearing cotton gloves and holding your coins by the edges to avoid wearing away detail.
What about storage?
You might stash regular spare change in a jar or piggy bank-but don't store your valuable coin collection this way. Rather, opt for a proper container like a coin album or holder. A good holder lets you keep your collection organized and protected.Keep your collection out of potentially humid rooms like the kitchen and bathroom, and also beware of hot stuffy attics and cold basements. Your collection will do best in your bedroom, living room, or similar space that has a steady, reasonable temperature and humidity level.
Teaching children about coin collecting
Many avid coin collectors enjoy sharing their hobby with their kids, grandkids, nieces, or nephews. Coin collecting is a fantastic activity for children. It teaches them responsibility as they learn how to handle their coins with care. It encourages their curiosity about history and about other countries and their currencies. And it makes a fun, social activity to enjoy across the generations. So, if there are children in your life who show an interest in your coin collection, go ahead and involve them! Tell them the stories behind your coins and ask which coins they like best.
The writer is a freelancer
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